With endless blue skies, one of the winningest collections of IPAs in the world, and a rapidly growing roster of beer festivals, Albuquerque, New Mexico, is staking its claim as one of America’s best brew destinations.
Nick Pachelli 1 year, 4 months ago
It’s dry and high in Albuquerque—at least that’s what you’ll pick up on first. Then, you might notice the green chile, the endless line of cyclists from the foothills to the river valley, and the powerful craft beers that inhabit a league of their own. The beer will hit you harder at 5,300 feet above sea level, but it’s a small price to pay for the highly talented, innovative brewers who call the “burque” home.
“The increased competition is spurring innovation and creativity,” says New Mexico Brewers Guild Executive Director John Gozigian of the past two years’ surge in craft breweries. “New Mexico is known for hops-forward beers and the public has consistently rewarded breweries that execute them well. So, now it’s getting interesting to see how new breweries differentiate themselves style-wise.”
With this explosive growth and a highly active homebrew community, there’s not a pocket of town without its own set of original craft—and the leaders among them are pushing the creative envelope with internationally recognized rosters. You won’t be hard-pressed to find a quirky brewer with something unabashedly bold on tap; you just might have to beat the cyclists to the door for those Saturday morning limited-release batches.
Downtown and Edo
When New Mexico craft beer comes up in conversation among the beer fiends from Portland to D.C., Marble Brewery is usually the top mention. Marble is New Mexico’s winningest brewery, consistently medaling at GABF and the World Beer Cup—their funky persona won them the 2014 GABF award for Small Brewery of the Year. They represent the grassroots, DIY spirit that kickstarted Albuquerque’s beer movement. Try the spicy Pilsner on tap (it took a bronze at GABF 2016) or the Wildflower Wheat made with New Mexico wildflower honey; it’s the perfect pair for a fiery plate of green chile enchiladas. Bring the dogs to hang out on the rooftop or patio (pictured at top), and if you venture outside of town toward Albuquerque’s Westside, visit their new location that has an indoor stage and reclaimed-wood community tables.
Down the street, in the heart of Albuquerque’s burgeoning downtown area, are some of the fresh-faced entrants to the scene—and they’re bringing hip, sleek undertones to their spaces. A perfect evening brew crawl among them calls for stops at Duel Brewing’s warehouse-style, exposed-brick space for a beer and painting class, followed by a stop at Red Door’s new location for a pint of Blackberry Hefeweizen and a trip to the patio at Sidetrack for a super-chill beer on cask.
Nob Hill and Fair Heights
Ask any semi-savvy foodie or beer nerd in the metro area for the best area with restaurants and gastropubs, and eight (maybe nine) out of ten will point to Nob Hill. The Bohemian pocket of Albuquerque is now home to Bosque Brewery’s and Tractor Brewing’s spinoff taprooms (we’ll get to their pints later), but it is most renowned for the food supplemented by statewide representation on tap.
Two Fools Tavern has the best fish ‘n’ chips in the state to match one of more than fifty local and international bottled-beer varieties. (Or try their nine-year-old single barrel whiskey, because, well, it’s terrific.) Matanza (above) boasts the largest collection of New Mexican beers in town with 100 taps. For some finger food, try the blue corn duck tamale. Across the street, Kelly’s, formerly a 1940s Ford dealership station and now an officially recognized historical landmark, has sports-bar fare and local brew amidst the retro gas pumps and signage. Two blocks down Central Avenue is Nob Hill Bar and Grill, an upscale joint that sticks to the neon theme and has a slew of hard-to-find beers from around the West on tap. And while it’s Nob Hill–adjacent, Quarter Celtic Brewpub makes malty Irish brews in-house—try the Rye-T Side of Dublin—with a poutine topped with green chile.
While Wells Park and the Industrial Zone are the most geographically central in Albuquerque, it’s still a hard sell to get folks to visit during the renowned Balloon Fiesta, ski season, or lavender season. But those who do venture into the shadows of tractor-trailers and warehouses are rewarded with bright, spacious, vintage, and creatively modern-industrial spaces. Tractor Brewing is located in a nondescript warehouse, and since opening in Los Lunas in 1999 and moving into Albuquerque in 2014, it’s fostered a reputation for well-executed, strong flavors such as the Milk Mustachio Stout.
Down the road, representing the trendier side of Albuquerque craft beer, and the direction the arena as a whole may be heading, is newcomer Bow and Arrow Brewing (above). Try the Flint and Grit English Mild Hybrid—a Southwestern interpretation of an English mild ale made with local blue corn—while taking in the stark interior design that embodies elements of Native American art.
Industrial District and Montgomery Heights
There’s no doubt that the epicenter of growth in the Albuquerque beer arena is happening in the Industrial District on the east side of Interstate 25—locals have even dubbed it the “Beer Zone.” Start at La Cumbre Brewing Co. Pull up a stool in the sunlit taproom with the GABF hops masterpiece, the Elevated IPA, or their seasonal Siberian Silk, which snagged a bronze at GABF 2016. Grab a few cans on the way out—there’s no better graphic design on a beer can than La Cumbre’s. (For more about La Cumbre, see “Breakout Brewer: La Cumbre.”.)
Three blocks northwest, Canteen Brewhouse, brought to us by local favorite restaurant Il Vicino, has an open-air deck that plays host to a diverse musical lineup every week with vintage country, blues, swing, and Latin groove varieties. Sip on the nutty Pecos Trail Brown Ale and try one of their melty sandwiches.
No trip to Albuquerque would be complete without a visit to Nexus. The modest building, formerly a call center, is tucked away off the freeway frontage road; and inside, they’re harboring one of Albuquerque’s favorite brewers (Kaylynn McKnight) and favorite beers (the World Beer Cup Gold Medal Winner Honey Chamomile Wheat). Not only is the on-tap roster one of the best in the city, but Nexus is also the only brewery in town that can claim matching accolades for the food. Here, home-style Southern food meets New Mexico soul food. Say hello to the best Frito pie, fish tacos, and burger (made with red chile BBQ sauce) in the state.
Try out one of the rotating food trucks outside Red Door Brewing on Candelaria and snag a Blackberry Hefeweizen if it’s on tap, then set off for Albuquerque’s latest effort toward a more crafty, trendy sensibility. Green Jeans Farmery is a commercial plaza built of pastel-colored shipping containers. Look for the bright Zia symbol on top of the Santa Fe Brewing Company container (above) as you seek out the notes of raisin and licorice in their malt-forward State Pen Porter. Get a sunset-facing seat on the upper deck; this is the spot to grab a fortifying snack amidst a long day of beer exploration.
Hop heads will want to spend their time in North Valley. Thanks in large part to the powerhouse flavors strewn throughout New Mexican food—look for enchiladas “Christmas,” tamales, smothered burritos, and green chile stew—Albuquerque has become an incubator of sorts for strong IPAs. For proof, look at how Albuquerque breweries have dominated the National IPA Challenge (NIPAC) for the past three years, as brewers have diversified their IPAs to match New Mexicans’ love of intense flavor.
There are really two joints that battle it out for the top slot in IPAs. They’re both on Alameda Boulevard, exactly four miles apart, focusing on complex hops aroma over stark bitters.
On the sandy banks of the Rio Grande river, Boxing Bear’s (above) Justin Hamilton and Dylan Davis lead the team that’s quickly racking up awards this year: they won gold at the World Beer Cup, silver at GABF 2015 for their Chocolate Milk Stout, gold at GABF 2016 for their Chocolate Milk Stout and The Red Glove, a double red ale, and they topped all other New Mexico entries in the 2016 IPA Challenge. In addition, at GABF 2016, they were named Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year. When you pay a visit, try a flight with the citrusy Uppercut IPA and whatever on the board is seasonal.
Over at Bosque, it’s the Scale Tipper, with its floral hops, that took home gold at NIPAC and Acequia IPA and Bosque Lager that scored silver medals at GABF 2016. Since opening their original taproom in 2012, they’ve expanded to Nob Hill, Las Cruces, and plans are afoot for their biggest endeavor yet with a massive Bernalillo location (opening January 2017). At the San Mateo location, light up your taste buds with a Hot Bosque (a golden ale with major hints of jalapeño).
While the beer surge hasn’t tapped the Northeast Heights yet, small pockets are showing promise. This past August, Marble Brewery opened a taproom in an old post office on Montgomery Boulevard, while Starr Brothers is pushing tart ciders and a full menu at their location just west of Albuquerque Acres. And finally, for the exercise enthusiasts, if you’re just wrapping up a hike on the Elena Gallegos or Pino Trails, drive the short distance down the hill to Il Vicino for stellar wood-fired pizza and the same beers that served as the early bastion for Albuquerque homebrewers—go for the Slow Down Brown or the Wet Mountain IPA.
Further Afield: Santa Fe and Taos
The legacy city of New Mexico tourism, Santa Fe doesn’t just tout an eclectic artistic sensibility. The city also plays host to one of the state’s most popular beer festivals, the Outside Bike & Brew (May 18–21, 2017). Every year, riders, bike builders, drinkers, and music lovers congregate in Santa Fe to celebrate two of modern New Mexico’s greatest pastimes: beer and bikes.
For the rest of the year, Santa Fe Brewing is, of course, the flagship brewer in town; they’re also the oldest microbrewery in the state. Their tasting room just off Highway 14 churns out plenty of signature Pale Ale for travelers, locals, and the Albuquerque-based cycling posses who take an occasional Sunday ride north to Santa Fe, fill their growlers, and take the Railrunner train back home. Another high note up north is Blue Corn Brewery. The one-man, 7-barrel brewhouse somehow brews up specialty ales and lagers year-round, and their menu is a Santa Fe favorite that’s known for its short-rib tacos and carnitas paired with Atomic Blonde Lager.
If you’re in Santa Fe, there’s no excuse not to finish off the trifecta in Taos. Here, you can’t miss the Green Chile Ale at Eske’s Brew Pub on the south side of town—take note of the quaint, century-old adobe architecture. Venture to the other side of town and catch a brew, a brat, and a show at Taos Mesa Brewing. Try the Whitefeather IPA, named after one of the signature runs at Taos Ski Valley. Or drive the thirty minutes north to the ski area itself and have a beer in the tiny, memorabilia-filled taproom. And lastly, for the experience if nothing else, take a drive to Abiquiu where at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, a monastery near a former residence of Georgia O’Keeffe, monks grow their own Neomexicanus hops and brew beer under the Abbey Beverage Company flag. You can sample the beers in their taproom before taking the Monks’ Ale home.
PHOTOS: NICK PACHELLI
Maplewood Brewery and Distillery: Telling Stories Through Beer
Chicago’s Maplewood Brewery & Distillery can tell a lot of stories. There’s the tale of being the only brewery/distillery in Illinois. The legal thriller of losing their original name. But the best story of Maplewood is the sagas its telling with beer.
The Hunt for Wild Hops
For most brewers, hops are typically purchased through massive multiyear contracts from far away farms in the Pacific Northwest. But for one rugged brewer in New Mexico, hops harvest is time to hit the trails and canyons of the state’s high country.